Drunk History Lessons at the Pikey

Get schooled on historic Hollywood cocktail’s on Monday, August 17
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Next Monday, wife-and-husband cocktail authors Lesley Jacobs Solmonson and David Solmonson (co-writers of The 12 Bottle Bar) will teach your favorite history class ever because, yes, cocktails will be served. At the Museum of the American Cocktail’s Sin and the Silver Screen class, which takes place at The Pikey on Sunset Boulevard on August 17th, you’ll learn all about how the city of Hollywood was transformed from a dry, religious hamlet in the late 1800s into a glamorous land of celebrity-filled nightclubs in the 1930s. Naturally cocktails representing the changing times will be served as well as paired with farm-to-table dishes created by the Pikey’s chef Ralph Johnson. Because tasting is the best way to learn.

The drinking itinerary begins in the late 1800s, the days of the first celebrity bartender Jerry Thomas, then moves through the birth of the Silver Screen and Hollywood nightclubs to Tiki times with Don the Beachcomber. You’ll get to relive the growing cocktail scene kickstarted by debaucherous movie stars and the nightclubs that sprang up to entertain them.

Montmartre cocktail
Montmartre cocktail

Photograph courtesy of Lesley Jacobs Solmonson

“The Cocoanut Grove’s after party bungalows were as popular as the night club. The Cafe Montmartre was near the Hollywood Hotel where all the actors were staying. The Brown Derby opened up right across from the Ambassador. So it was this little triangulation of sin,” explains Lesley.

What’s cool is that the event cocktails stay true to the original recipes. Since modern tastes are vastly different from those early days of cocktail, a lot of them wouldn’t appeal to today’s drinker. For example, according to Solmonson, there once was a cocktail named after silver screen siren Greta Garbo called the Garbo Gargle. It was an unappealing mix of creme de menthe, orange juice, grenadine, sweet vermouth, brandy and topped with port wine. Fortunately that won’t be served at the event but drinks like the Embassy and the Hi Ho, which still hold up, will.

Here’s a peek at the event’s cocktail itinerary with notes by Lesley:

Jerry Thomas’ Champagne punch: champagne, raspberry syrup, lemon juice, sugar, pineapple and orange slices. It was a popular drink during those Jerry Thomas days in the late 1800s

Mary Pickford: white rum, pineapple, grenadine, maraschino liqueur. “Mary Pickford wasn’t inherent in that area but our point was to show what an influence the actors had. If you flip through the Hollywood Cocktails book there’s a Mary Pickford, a Douglas Fairbanks, etc. Mary Pickford was the first big star, she starred in the first big movie. They had a huge influence on popular culture. Far more than today.”

Hi Ho: gin, white port, bitters. “When we get into the ’20s and Prohibition, that’s when you had the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador, the Montmartre, the Brown Derby were all in full swing. We’re doing the Hi Ho, as in Highland and Hollywood. There was a Highland and Hollywood club. And the drink is a martini twist. It’s a glorious drink.”

Embassy cocktail
Embassy cocktail

Photograph courtesy of Lesley Jacobs Solmonson

The Embassy (brandy, rum, Cointreau, lime, Angostura) and the Mai Tai: “The 1930s is when the Embassy Club opened and 1934 was Don the Beachcomber. We’re serving an Embassy which is the more spirit forward brandy-rum-Cointreau-lime juice. And then we move into the Tiki culture with Don and Trader Vic.”

The class comes at a time when Los Angeles, despite its vibrant and thriving cocktail scene, gets overlooked as a serious cocktail town. “Granted we have to give New York credit for getting things moving,” says Solmonson. “But what people forget was that there was a huge drinking culture in California that existed…. It was defined around Hollywood, the movie industry, and then Tiki. We wouldn’t have Tiki if L.A. didn’t exist.”

Despite the tasty cocktails, this history lesson is a must for any L.A. cocktail enthusiast. “It’s really important to know that we came from somewhere and we have a huge tradition to preserve,” Solmonson adds. “And it’s not just that we have a responsibility to look to yesterday, it’s that we have a responsibility to move it forward.”

Tickets: $40

The Pikey, 617 W. Sunset Blvd., 323-850-5400

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